- Associated Press - Friday, March 21, 2014

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Lawmakers are looking for a stop-gap measure to fix problems with Maryland’s bail system, starting this spring. Sen. Joseph Getty, R-Carroll, said they’re hung up on disagreements about how dramatic these short-term changes should be.

A workgroup with senators, delegates and Gov. Martin O’Malley’s staff met Friday morning to negotiate. Getty said they’ll meet again Monday, as there are just over two weeks left in the session.

Most members agree Maryland should test Sen. Brian Frosh’s proposal in one or two counties. Frosh, D-Montgomery, wants to hire pretrial workers who would use a formula to determine whether each person is jailed or incarcerated upon arrest.

The objective would be to pinpoint the defendants who pose risk of committing more crimes or skipping court, and to release everyone else without requiring bond payment. The formula is based on a vast amount of data from previous criminal cases.

But while the state tests this method, it will need a temporary adjustment to its current system.

Maryland’s highest court has ordered the state to provide a public defender at every bail hearing for every indigent defendant, starting in June.

If the legislature doesn’t reach a compromise, the state will likely have to spend an extra $28-30 million yearly to hire the necessary lawyers.

One alternative is to restructure the current system. Instead of an immediate bail hearing in front of a court employee, followed by a bail review in front of a judge, the state could bundle these into a single hearing before a judge.

Another is to give defendants a choice between an immediate hearing with no defense lawyer or waiting in jail until a judge and defense lawyer are available.

Getty said the workgroup is stuck on this question.

Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, said Friday the group was “not anywhere close” to a compromise, though he said it was inconceivable that the state would end up spending $30 million a year to hire extra lawyers.

Del. Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery, said a defined proposal could emerge by the end of next week.

As for the risk assessment approach, it was first used in New York City in the early 1960s. The Laura and John Arnold Foundation estimated last year that less than 10 percent of jurisdictions in the U.S. used it.

However, most use them for guidance, in conjunction with defendant interviews. Kentucky has reported success relying on the formula alone. But Zirkin said he doesn’t think this method has been tested enough, and he believes implementing it statewide all at once, as Frosh has proposed, would be “moronic” and “irresponsible.”

“Just wait,” he said. “Just wait until somebody gets out based on some computer number … and kills somebody.”

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